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Picking the Pac — Week Nine

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Washington State looks to retain control of the Pac-12 North in a pivotal Saturday afternoon game against the Cardinal.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

While Washington’s path to the Rose Bowl remains clear — win out, and they’re in — we’ll get a better sense of whether that road goes primarily through Seattle or Pullman following this week’s games. Washington State and Stanford both own 3–1 conference records, meaning that whomever wins that game will be neck-and-neck with the Huskies pending the outcome of their own game against Cal. Meanwhile, the Trojans badly need to land on their feet following last week’s drubbing by Utah, as the Utes now own what could prove to be a pivotal tie-breaker in their head-to-head win over USC.

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 46–14 / 24–25–2

Game of the Week

No. 14 Washington State Cougars vs. No. 24 Stanford Cardinal (Saturday, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Stanford -3.0, o/u 54.0

All the talk we’ve engaged in about the potentially most exciting Apple Cup in a generation will be for naught if the Cougs don’t find a way to upset the Cardinal this weekend. As always, Washington State brings one of the conference’s best passing attacks thanks to Gardner Minshew’s connection with wide receivers Davontavean Martin, Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston Jr., each of whom has caught more than 30 balls this season and combine for 15 touchdown receptions. For their part, Stanford counters with cornerback Paulson Adebo, whose 15 pass defenses on the year ranks first in the conference and third nationally, and defensive tackle Jovan Swann, who tallied 1.5 sacks last week against Arizona State.

Wazzu currently stands as the most highly ranked team in the conference, and is clearly outperforming expectations this season. But I suspect it’s too much of an ask for them to turn around after the most emotionally exhausting weekend of their careers and earn a tough win on the road against a Stanford program that always seems to play its best football around this time of the year. Stanford 31, Washington State 21.

All the Rest

Friday

No. 23 Utah Utes vs. UCLA Bruins (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Utah -10.5, o/u 55.0

Is there any team in America that has turned its season around as dramatically as the Bruins? After dropping five straight to start the season, including losses to two Group of Five teams in Cincinnati and Fresno State, UCLA is 2–2 in conference play after posting consecutive wins over Cal and Arizona. Huskies fans have firsthand knowledge of UCLA’s offensive potency, and the Utah defense (No. 5 nationally by yards per play) will be a great measuring stick in assessing just how far Chip Kelly’s program has come since the early weeks of the season. Utah 38, UCLA 28.

Saturday

Oregon State Beavers vs. Colorado Buffaloes (12 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Colorado -24.0, o/u 63.0

While Colorado took a tough loss last week on the road against the Huskies, getting Oregon State at home should offer a nice opportunity for the Buffs to get back on track and stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 South. The Beavers’ porous defense means that Jonathan Smith will be hard pressed to keep this one competitive, even if the banged-up Jermar Jefferson is healthy enough to play. Colorado 42, Oregon State 17.

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. USC Trojans (12:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN 2)

USC -6.5, o/u 54.0

Clay Helton’s job prospects took painful hit in last week’s loss to Utah, in which the Utes at one point rolled off 34 unanswered points. Consequently, it doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to call USC’s home game against the Sun Devils a must-win affair. ASU began the season with a surprising upset victory over the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans but have mostly cratered since then, losing four of their last five and dwelling in the basement of the South division with a 1–3 league record. Matt Fink earned his share of snaps at quarterback for the Trojans last week when he subbed in for the reportedly concussed JT Daniels, who struggled horribly against the Utes before leaving the game, and Helton has yet to announce which player will earn the starting role this weekend against ASU. Despite that uncertainty, the ineffectiveness of both defenses makes me think we’re looking at a shootout. USC 41, Arizona State 35.

No. 19 Oregon Ducks vs. Arizona Wildcats (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Oregon -9.5, o/u 64.0

Oregon’s flirtation with the College Football Playoff was over almost as quickly as it began, but the Ducks remain in the hunt for the Rose Bowl, even if they’ll need more than a few dominos to fall in precisely the right way for their path to become a realistic one. Despite their valiant attempt to mount a second-half comeback, Mario Cristobal’s team was thoroughly dominated by the Cougars last weekend, and it’s hard to know what to expect from the team going forward. In Arizona, they’ll find an opponent that surrenders 7.5 yards per attempt, and has given up 14 touchdowns against five interceptions. I’ll take Justin Herbert bouncing back in a big way against the Wildcats in this one. Oregon 45, Arizona 21.